The Great Brownie Taste-off (The Yolanda's Yummery Series, #1) by Lisa Maliga by Lisa Maliga - Read Online
The Great Brownie Taste-off (The Yolanda's Yummery Series, #1)
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Yolanda Carter comes from a family of artisans and lives in her deceased grandparent's cottage in Sherman Oaks, California. She works at a small cat shelter but dreams of owning a bakery. Her friend from high school, Teagan Mishkin, knows that Yolanda needs money and suggests better paying work as a cocktail waitress. The interview takes an unexpected turn and she stumbles across a scheme to close down the cat shelter.

The plan Yolanda concocts may be the only way to save the shelter. Helped by her parents, coworkers and friends, a rising young blogger also takes an interest in her plight. Will she bake the best brownies of her life?

BONUS ~ Contains the winning brownie recipe!

Published: Lisa Maliga on
ISBN: 9781498973113
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The Great Brownie Taste-off (The Yolanda's Yummery Series, #1) - Lisa Maliga

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It all began with An Author's Nightmare. I merged two genres, chick lit and horror, but my story was too dark and it was removed from all online bookstores.

When I rethought my story, I did far more than rename it Sweet Dreams. I found myself drawn further into the world of bakeries, sweets, suspense, and romance. Best of all, the far lighter tale had nicer characters and I had a blast writing and researching the story! On the cover, you'll see two stacks of brightly colored macarons. After they were photographed, guess who had to eat them?

I didn't plan to write a series of romantic tales. In fact, if it hadn't been for Jennifer Donoghue, a book reviewer at the wonderful A Life Bound by Books blog, I probably wouldn't have. Upon reviewing my novella, she wrote, "Brenda Nevins is the renowned best selling author of the 'Yolanda’s Yummery' series. I would love to read more about Yolanda’s Yummery. After reading about it in Sweet Dreams I would love to read more and I wonder if the author has considered making it a series of its own."

I was pleased with Jennifer's review and especially with her interest in the yummery books. When writing Sweet Dreams, I had a vague idea about what the story behind each of the yummery titles entailed.

Which brings me to The Great Brownie Taste-off. It's one thing to want to own a bakery, but quite another to actually open one up, especially considering all the time and costs that are involved. Owning and operating a successful bakery, especially for someone so young, is a very daunting task. How did Yolanda Carter ever manage to get the yummery she has dreamed about for so long? Read on and find out!


Yolanda Carter took a bite of the Red Velvet cupcake. The sweet swirl of cream cheese frosting dissolved first in her mouth, followed by the rich chocolaty goodness of the cupcake. Yes, this batch was just fine, but a smattering of red or blue sugar pearl sprinkles would help the cupcakes stand out even more. Sprinkles were always good to have when bringing in cupcakes for Fun Food Friday. Employees and volunteers loved the tradition of sharing different types of food every week. It had been going on at the Crown Street Cat Shelter for years, and Yolanda was always happy to bring in her freshly baked cupcakes, layer cakes, or brownies.

Since it was February, but an appropriately gorgeous sunny day with temperatures promising to soar into the mid-80s, she thought that cool turquoise sprinkles would be a nice touch. She reached up into the wooden spice rack that sat on her counter and found the sprinkles, which she gently shook on top of each swirled cupcake top. She loved that the triple level rack contained only decorations and her most used and loved vanilla extracts, rather than the twenty-four herbs and spices that came with the housewarming present from her parents. Yolanda baked far more than she cooked and while she still had the standard spices, they were kept in a cupboard next to the stove.

For a second she admired the array of cupcakes sporting their perky blue buttons of sugar. A glance at the chalet-style cuckoo clock above the back door indicated that she was running late. She gulped down the rest of the cupcake and carefully placed the decorated cupcakes in the plastic carrier. Shouldn't have this much sugar in the morning, she thought, knowing she'd have to be careful with what she ate the rest of the day. Picking up the carrier, she held it in front of her as she left the kitchen and hurried through the small living room and over to the front hall table. 

Yolanda was of average height and had an extra ten pounds on her hips that wouldn't go away, even if she went for daylong canyon hikes or rode her bike countless miles along the beachside bike trails. She had warm hazel eyes and long straight chestnut brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wore old baggy jeans she'd bought at the Buffalo Exchange resale shop, pairing it up with an oversized purple batik shirt made by her artsy mother. Dressing casually and comfortably was her daily working attire.

She thought about her upcoming day. Missy Wakefield, her boss, would be there, as would Sid, the new college student along with a couple of volunteers. Tomorrow would be another Cat Adoption Day so there was more work than usual. She had to make sure there were plenty of adoption forms and copies of the kitten and cat tips booklet. Yolanda was proud of the fact that she had helped her boss write and take cute photos of some cats and kittens to enhance the booklet. After all, she had grown up with adopted cats and dogs and last year had adopted Miss Chef her classic tuxedo cat with the white stripe down her face and a perpetually curved white smile. Her dainty white paws were always kept clean and the white stripe along the front of her body was groomed several times a day. Her official name was Miss Pastry Chef, due to Yolanda's dream occupation, but sometimes her name was shortened to Mischief. Once, Yolanda had left a cupcake on the coffee table in the living room as she was going to have a snack while she watched Cupcake Wars. The cat jumped up and devoured the vanilla buttercream cupcake. She learned never to leave any cupcake or cake or anything edible unattended after that.

While she loved her job, especially being around a cast of approximately 170 cats and kittens every weekday, she knew that earning just over nine dollars an hour wasn’t going to get her the bakery that she envisioned. Not even if she scrimped and saved every dollar she earned. Start up fees for a tiny bakery in Los Angeles County were very high—even if she opted for a location in Whittier or somewhere less expensive than Sherman Oaks.

She picked up her bright pink and purple batik tote bag that was always filled with cat toys and packets of healthy homemade cat treats. The four-legged residents staying at the shelter enjoyed eating her signature tuna or chicken treats.

Inside the detached garage, she unlocked her car and put the cupcake carrier in the back seat of her old silver Ford Focus hatchback. It was good for hauling things and occasionally visiting the gas station. It was also a source of embarrassment for her boyfriend, Zac Field, who called himself a ragtop man as he favored convertibles.

The cottage was painted pastel yellow and had white gingerbread trim. A low white picket fence was set off from the sidewalk. Her yard boasted a variety of vegetation, much of it native to the area like cactus, chaparral, yucca, and sage. A trio of spiny leaved aloe vera plants bloomed beneath the back windows. The tall orange tree was in full bloom. At the corner of the property loomed some royal palm trees and shade from the fifteen-foot high wall of bamboo. Such was the view that Yolanda saw when she went into her backyard of the house on the corner of Dove Drive and Willowbrook Street.

There wasn't a stoplight on the intersection of Willowbrook that fed into Ventura Boulevard, a fact she usually appreciated as it invited less traffic in the neighborhood. Backing out of the driveway, she made a turn down a side street and took an alley a block away until she was at the main east-west artery of Ventura that ran eighteen miles through the San Fernando Valley. She rolled down her window, as the temperature wasn't scorching enough for her to switch on the temperamental air conditioning. Catching the green light, Yolanda switched on her left turn signal and joined the steady stream of traffic until she opted for another side street to save time.

Within ten minutes, she was approaching the small gray prefabricated building with a pot-holed parking lot behind it.  She could tell who was there by the show of vehicles: her boss's Toyota SUV and the Harley favored by part timer Sid, along with Tatiana's ancient white BMW and Julio's newish red minivan. A vintage sky blue Schwinn bicycle with shiny chrome fenders was locked in the small bike rack, Laura's ride.

On the other side of Crown Street, she noticed a pair of men in dark shirts and slacks talking to each other. The man with a wispy fringe of hair was peering through a late model camcorder as he focused on filming something behind her. The other man with gray hair and a matching beard was clutching a minuscule point and shoot digital camera. He stood on the sidewalk taking photos of what looked like the shelter or the small warehouse next to it. He happened to notice her and quickly turned and headed further down the block.

As she reached into her car to grab her stuff, she saw them scurry over to a white four-door sedan and get inside. It took off in the opposite direction and turned down Warren Street, disappearing from view. That's odd, she thought.

She balanced her tote bag in one hand and the cupcake carrier in the other, and opened the back door of the cat shelter. The smell hit the instant she stepped inside, the ripe stench of dozens of cats invaded her delicate nostrils. She wasn’t able to wear her favorite perfume, as some of the cats were allergic to what was considered a harsh aroma, even though it smelled like freshly baked sugar cookies. So she had to close her nose and concentrate on her adored little charges. The meow-chorus greeted her as a group of cats made it evident that they knew she was there and had special treats for them. Even as she walked up to the back entrance, she could hear the kitty cat glee club as some of her diehard fans called out.

Resembling the Pied Piper of cats, Yolanda rushed to the closed door with the NO CATS/EMPLOYEES ONLY sign prominently displayed. On cue, it opened for her. She gratefully stepped inside, the size twelve track shoe of Sid gently nudging the large calico leader aside.

So sorry I'm late, she said as Sid shut the door behind her. In the hallway, the meowers redoubled their efforts, underscoring the ruckus with their frantic claws scratching the door.

Gangly young Sid, who wore his usual black jeans and T-shirt, looked in the direction of the noise and laughed. Reminds me of zombies, he said.

I know what you mean! she laughed as she placed the cupcake carrier on the scratched former dining room table in the center of the room. In the shelter, the break room also served as a conference room. She plunked her tote bag next to it. The cinder block walled room painted in gaudy neons like a sunset on steroids always made her eyes hurt for a few seconds. I have Red Velvet cupcakes.

Missy walked in and kept the strident cats at bay with her fast entrance. The older woman had hip-length black hair with reddish brown roots. Baggy cargo pants sported bulges of telltale cat treats in the multitude of pockets, and a bulky navy sweatshirt attempted to hide her girth. Hey Yolanda, she said, observing the younger woman removing the lid from the carrier. You brought my favorite cupcakes!

You always say that, Missy.

It's always true. Good news! This time we have plates and napkins. Missy went over to the small table that held a Mr. Coffee maker with a fresh pot